Review: Hatch, Underbelly Cowgate, Edinburgh Fringe

As the character of Jess, Sarah Carton is pure dynamite. The grey pallor of her prison uniform mixes with the din beyond her door: muffled voices, rubber-soled footsteps and the scraping of keys turning in locks. In the darkness, the apple logo burns from the lid of her laptop, steady synths raging against the gloom. 

Arrested on suspicion of drug possession, Hatch explores the aftermath of Jess’ sentencing. Found guilty, she is forced to serve time — taking the bullet for her boyfriend, Callum, for whom she was picking up. Feverish with loneliness, Jess grieves for their relationship. The toxicity of it all is haunting. Carton’s voice is sensual — animal, even. Doused in a pink spotlight, elements of folk, rhythm and poetry creep around the edges of the score. Carton draws a microphone across the skin of her cheek. “Don’t you miss me?” She says, into the nothingness.

Claustrophobia begins to itch at the hours, and between making trouble she makes ligatures from the fabric of her curtains. Despite the fact that her rights have been stripped away, she remains in control of the stage. Tightening her ponytail, Carton lets her fingers run across a keyboard. She sings, knees sinking into her camp bed, as she teases the perverted guard outside. 

Evocative imagery sets the senses alight: smells of banana-flavoured pick ’n mix are set against reflections made by flood lights bouncing off barbed wire. In addition, an overwhelming sense of boredom is juxtaposed with a strange safety carved from the beginnings of institutionalisation. Hatch is also loaded with humour — Rose Eye Productions have done well to explore such a timely and necessary topic. 

The production is particularly poignant, given its collaboration with InHouse Records. Known as the first record label to be launched from inside prison, it was created by and for prisoners. At a time when the UK — particularly London — is experiencing such an epidemic of violent crime, the portrayal of characters such as Jess gives pause to the realities faced by many young people today. The soundtrack too, is unique; a peculiar breed of earworm that will linger long after the lights go down.

Hatch is playing Underbelly Cowgate until the 25 August, as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. For more information and tickets, see the Edinburgh Fringe website.